Chapter 31 ended by telling that Job’s discourses had ended. The three friends of Job have ended their discourses also. Yet there is not a resolution to the matter before these four about God and how he runs the world. They are at a stalemate and the reader does not have any answers yet. Job 32:1 tells us that the friends stop answering Job because they see that they are not going to get anywhere with him (“he was righteous in his own eyes”).
Introducing Elihu (32:1-5)
We are introduced to another man named Elihu. While Job and his three friends are speaking to each other there is apparently an audience. Elihu is in this audience. But according to verse 4 he has kept quiet because all four of these men were older than him. So he remained silent and listened while these discourses unfolded. At this point Elihu is angry at Job because Job is justifying himself rather than God. Further, Elihu is angry with the three friends because they declaring Job to be in the wrong but do not have a suitable answer for Job. Job is righteous and the three friends have no other explanation for suffering except wicked behavior. So when he sees that these three friends of Job have no answers, he burns with angry about what these four have been saying.
The big question everyone has when they come to this part of the book is: How should we read Elihu? Is he offering godly counsel or should he be considered like the other three friends and his words be dismissed? Looking at the scholars and commentators will not help because they are evenly divided. Some think Elihu is an angry, brash windbag and some think Elihu gives godly wisdom. So we need to careful examine the text and thoughtful consider the evidence for and against accepting Elihu as godly testimony.
First, some reject Elihu because he says a lot of things that sound like what the three friends say. But this really should not sway us in either direction because we have noticed throughout our study of the book of Job that the three friends are often speaking truthful, scriptural principles. The problem was the way the three friends were applying those principles. Further, it would not make sense of the text if Elihu is simply going to parrot what the three friends said when he is angry at the three friends because they have not given Job an answer (32:3,5). Some reject Elihu because he is angry at these three friends and at Job, but this is not a fair criticism either because God is angry at the three friends (42:7) and with Job (40:8) for the exact same reasons. Elihu’s anger can easily be described as righteous anger because of what these four people are saying about God and how he runs the world. God makes the same charges as Elihu. We will also see Elihu say things that God will say in his speeches, and we will bring those out when we come to those sections.
But let us look at the literature to help us decide about Elihu. First, Elihu is not condemned at the end of the book for his words, unlike the three friends who are (42:7). If Elihu’s message is wrong, then we would expect in this poetry for God to call him into account for his wrong words. Second, Elihu has the longest speeches, giving four speeches which are longer than what the three friends give. So he is given more time to speak. Third, and closely related to the second point, Elihu is not rebutted. Every time a friend of Job gives a speech, there is always a response for Job pointing out how those words were wrong. Elihu asks Job to rebuke him if he is wrong, but Job never does. Job remains completely silent throughout all of Elihu’s speeches, indicating that he is teaching Job what is right. Finally, Elihu’s speech introduces God. Remember that this is poetry and we must look at the structure of the literature. Elihu’s words seamlessly transition to the arrival of God. Elihu is could be seen as a forerunner preparing the way for God’s arrival to speak to everyone in this book. It is for these reasons that this is the lens we will use in considering Elihu’s words, as godly counsel that is to be accepted and learned from.
Preparing For Elihu’s Instruction (32:6-22)
Before Elihu can offer instruction, he has to prepare these four people for listening to him. Some who read this grow weary with Elihu, but he is begging for people to pay attention to the words he will say. Because he was young and thought the older would teach wisdom, Elihu remained quiet (32:6-7). Elihu declares that he will use godly wisdom (32:8) and that he is able to possess godly wisdom even though he is young (32:9). So he asks for everyone to listen (32:10-12). Elihu challenges the three friends that they need to take responsibility for the counsel they gave (32:13). They should correct Job and not just wait for God to do it. Elihu clarifies that the arguments he will make will not be the same arguments that these three friends have made (32:14). So he has much to say (32:15-22) but he will be fair to Job (32:21), declaring the truth in a straightforward manner (32:22).
Correcting Job (33:1-33)
Now Elihu turns to Job in chapter 33. Elihu declares that he has the Spirit of God and the words he gives are inspired (33:3-4). But Elihu says that he is only a human also and his pressure will not be heavy on Job (33:5-7).
I want you to now notice where Elihu begins. Elihu does not look at the life of Job and say that you must have sinned in your life at some point and that is why you are suffering. Elihu does not speculate, like the three friends do, that Job must have sinned. Notice that Elihu says in verse 8 that he is going to challenge Job on the words that Job said. Elihu is not going to make things up but is quoting the words that he heard Job say and quotes those words in 33:9-11. Job has said these words (Job 13:24,27; 16:9; 19:7,11). Elihu’s correction will be based on the words he heard Job say, which is very different than the attack from the three friends. You say that you are right and that God has no answer for you. So God has invented reasons to oppose you so that he treats you as his enemy. Elihu says in verse 12 that you were not right to say that.
How can you say that God would have no answer for your words (33:12-13)? What bold, arrogant words! Why are you contending against God with your words? Please consider that Elihu is right because God will say the same thing in Job 40:2. Who are we to say that God must answer us? Who are we to say that God would not have an answer when I contend with him?
Elihu’s message is this: God does speak and he speaks through suffering (33:14-18). Remember that in the patriarchal period God would speak directly to the people, and would also speak through visions and dreams during the patriarchal and mosaic times (Joseph, Nebuchadnezzar, the prophets, etc). But God speaks another way and this is what Job needs to listen to. God does speak through suffering. The friends have said that suffering is a consequence for sins. But Elihu says that God can also use suffering purposefully. Notice the purpose in verses 17-18, “That he may turn man aside from his deed and conceal pride from man; he keeps back his soul from the pit, his life from perishing by the sword.”
God, through his words and through his actions, keeps humans from the worst possible fate. Elihu says that if we did not have suffering we would fall into the pit. God does not allow suffering because we are his enemies, like Job asserts. God uses suffering instructively. The discipline of God is his grace to save us.
Notice that Elihu pushes this point in verses 23-30. God is merciful and is delivering people from going into the pit, using messengers and mediators.
He has redeemed my soul from going down into the pit, and my life shall look upon the light. Behold, God does all these things, twice, three times, with a man, to bring back his soul from the pit, that he may be lighted with the light of life. (Job 33:28–30 ESV)
God uses suffering to direct our steps so that we are not destroyed. C.S. Lewis said in his book The Problem of Pain, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” The scriptures tells us the same thing.
My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline or be weary of his reproof, for the Lord reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights. (Proverbs 3:11–12 ESV)
And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. (Hebrews 12:5–11 ESV)
Too often these passage are read as if God is beating you and punishing you for your sins. But that is not the point of these authors. Rather, God allows this discipline and instruction through suffering for your own good, to make us what God desires. This is why so many authors say that we can rejoice in our sufferings because the instruction of God is found in them.
Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. (Romans 5:3–5 ESV)
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:2–4 ESV)
Think about God’s picture like this so we can see how suffering is the expression of God’s grace and mercy. All of us have grabbed something very hot so that it burns our hand. Is God punishing us for grabbing a hot pan? No, do you see that it is a grace of God that we feel that pain before we melt our skin to the pain and cause permanent damage? This is what Elihu is saying. Suffering is good for us because the pain is to be instructive so that we will not fall into the pit and suffering permanent, lasting harm to our eternal souls.
Suffering is purposeful from God’s perspective and it must be the perspective we adopt for our lives. God is not punishing through your suffering, but he is teaching you. God has allowed suffering in the world and in our lives so that we would treat it like a hot pan, teaching us to consider our ways and keep our eyes focused on God. I have made the point many times that if we experienced heaven and perfection on earth, then we would have no desire to be with God in eternity. We would be perfectly content to stay here in our selfish thoughts and ways. But God has created a system that allows for suffering so that we are tested and refined, instructed and made wiser, so that we will not lose our souls, but will draw closer to the Lord. God allows suffering for teaching. We must be willing to listen to what God is saying through our suffering so that it draws us closer to him.